An Unexpected Detour, Happy 1st Anniversary

What if ALL of our life’s experiences had prepared us perfectly for our next season of work?   That question propelled me a year ago as I launched Winsightz on August 15, 2015.  Deep in my soul, I just knew that it was time for a new chapter in my life after over 15 years as the founding team member at Upic Solutions.  The cause I had devoted my entire career to was struggling to maintain relevancy in the midst of losing almost 40 percent of their donor base over the previous eight years.  And I felt like now was the time to pursue my dream of building a team which would bring a diverse set of life experiences in service to a select group of clients. The launch of Winsightz was the culmination of months of preparation.  I had built a business plan with multiple income streams.  Our new website was ready and I had begun nurturing potential clients with a series of touchpoints.  I had recently secured relationships with business partners addressing a specific need within the United Way fundraising model.  Finally, I co-located in one of Cincinnati’s best business incubators and began absorbing as much information as I could about growing a new business.  Classic business startup 101. The next several months were a blur of activity.  We launched WinBack, a software as a service beta program, designed to help six United Ways identify and overcome their donor retention challenges.  Via LinkedIn, I joined forces with two of my former coworkers to craft SPOT-On, an inspiring update of the old CAN-DO model from the 1990’s.  And...

12,154 Love letters: My 33 years as United Way pro

  If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. –Marc Anthony For the last 12,154 days I have been directly employed by United Way or one of its subsidiaries. September 30, 2015 was my last day working within United Way network. June 21, 1982: I arrived in Alexandria at the former United Way of America HQ just a few weeks after graduating from The College of William and Mary. I found this photo of the UWA management training class from that first week on the job. The program recruited 10 recent graduates each year from across the nation, immersing us into two different United Way organizations over 12 months–one placement in fundraising and one placement in community impact. As the 1st generation in my family removed from sharecropping in rural Georgia and Virginia, this was an amazing opportunity. What an adventure! My career has taken me from Alexandria, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Hampton/Newport News, Lexington and finally to Cincinnati. Over the years, I quickly learned to pay attention to the origin story of each organization which contained the core DNA to the culture many decades later. Was that United Way formed by service providers seeking an efficient fund-raising channel? Or was it formed by people with resources seeking more effective service delivery options? Very different origin stories played out in very different community-based organizations. What I remember most from this time are the people, both inside the organization and within the community. As a young professional, the vast opportunity for mentorship by corporate titans and community activists alike was incredible. So many life lessons and...

Moment of Inspiration

Have you ever struggled with a decision, one that could change your life forever? All of the options feels like an overwhelming fog, blocking out the light. I felt that way for what seemed to be an eternity. And then suddenly…. Light comes streaming in and the answer is as clear as a Rocky Mountain stream. Colors seem brighter, life is more vibrant. Effortless. Like joy riding on a sunny summer day. A moment of inspiration. And mine came last December 15th. This was the first day of my two week retreat, staying at my father’s rental house across the street from where I grew up. Here’s my journal entry from that breakthrough day. December 15, 2014 Watson & Winston Day one of my retreat. Talked with Anand today—very eye opening demonstration of the way technology is changing so rapidly. No longer need to standardize data, or co-locate data or even worry about segregation of data. He showed me how Watson works taking multiple points of data, bringing forth unique hypothesis with cognitive computing. Watson is a thinking computer which understands language, sentiment and meaning—learning over time the language and concepts that we use within United Ways. And Anand’s firm combines that capability with the data which exists in structured databases to make Watson even more powerful. I’m not sure I understand what this is, but WOW— I’ve seen lots of technology demos during my tenure at Upic. What was so eye-opening to me was that this demo turned upside down all of my beliefs about how to harness the power of data. For the past decade, I’d been...

Fog of Discernment

Earlier this week, I took this photo of a spider web through a fogged up window. This image reminded me of the decision-making process over the past three years which brought me to this new season of my career.  Foggy, unclear, with a web of potential pitfalls. This journey began with an overwhelming feeling of restlessness in the summer of 2012. It was at a networking event almost three years ago where I first had the vision of becoming a business owner. I wanted to own Upic. Deep down, I believe that I have always been an entrepreneur. As a kid, we lived on a gravel country road with four houses surrounded by farms. Seeing a need to give us something to do when school was out for summer, I collected all of the children’s books from the neighborhood kids.  I opened “Peace Library” (yes, I’m a child of the 60’s) out of our backyard shed,  charging a nickel to check out any book, including ones you had previously owned. I leveraged profits from the library to purchase 6.5 ounce Coca-Colas that may dad brought home from work, selling them with a 100% markup for a dime each.  And later I took those profits to purchase penny candy from the country store which I sold for a nickel each.  By the end of that summer, I had amassed $60 from the neighborhood kids and was the proud owner of a new digital clock with AM/FM radio—my very first technology purchase. I was in business! That experience taught me to find a need, take action and use my powers of...

Congrats on your retirement! Really?

Shortly after posting my decision to leave Upic in April, I attended the national United Way conference in Dallas.  At that point, the focus was on reassuring everyone that the organization so many trust for cloud services and application expertise was strong and growing.  (And believe me, the best is yet to come–you will be amazed what Upic reveals in a few months). What I did not anticipate was how many people would greet me with a version of “congrats on your retirement”.  My first reaction was, wow–do I look THAT old?  Quickly followed by: they must really think I’ve socked away lots of cash to retire at my age. Upon reflection, I realize the question was very natural.  Normally, when announcing your departure the focus is on the new pathway, the new opportunity.  My career at Upic has been anything but normal and the same is true for this transition period. As background, the Upic board and I began this dialogue in June 2014.  By that time, I had been working at Upic for 14 years–exactly 2x my tenure at any other position during my career.  I had an intuitive sense that United Way was facing a new season of challenge/opportunity.  And I felt “called” to leverage my experiences both inside United Ways and in co-founding Upic for a greater good.  Most career coaches advise against having these kinds of discussions without a clear exit strategy.  To their credit, our Board has been wonderful to work with as I explored several options. Last February, it was clear I had to take a “leap of faith”.  I didn’t think...

A New Generation of Leadership

Fifteen years ago, I formally joined the Upic Solutions team as the first consultant/employee of an emerging technology collaboration between several regional United Ways. Our goal was to see if we could expand the successful back-office project between two United Way organizations into a regional one. United Ways were then ill prepared to provide electronic pledge processing with new commercial providers beginning to enter the market, backed by millions of dollars of venture capital. Today, Upic provides information/technology services on a national scale to over 20% of United Way team members coast to coast. We provide a wide variety of both transactional and strategic technology services, pioneering innovation across United Ways large and small. I am proud to have contributed to the formation and building of Upic into the United Way’s largest and most trusted technology partner over the past fifteen years. Last summer, I began to engage the Upic board in a discussion about CEO succession, with a goal of reaching a decision by my 55th birthday in March 2015. As a career United Way team member since 1982, I have become increasingly concerned about the future of our movement. And while we are doing essential IT services here at Upic, I have felt compelled to explore new ways to help address structural and systemic challenges facing both our United Way network and individual United Ways. As one stark example, in just the past six years United Ways have lost 30% of our national donor base (12.2M US donors in 2006 to 8.7M in 2013). I believe I have a unique set of experiences as a former United...